How a city can save the world

Graham Hogg / Sheffield’s theatreland / CC BY-SA 2.0

Last week I was privileged to see the Crucible Studio production “How a city can save the world”, directed by Tess Seddon and performed by the Sheffield People’s Theatre. We witnessed five ordinary Sheffielders transported into a dystopian future where only 24 people had survived the eco-apocalypse. I’m sure many of the audience will have been inspired by the play and be thinking about what they can do now to prevent the collapse of our society. 

A friend wrote, “It seemed like the actors believed that this was more than a play-that we really are in a climate crisis and that they weren’t just taking character parts and going by the script.”

As the show has now finished I hope it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that the play had a happy ending, with the adventurers returning to 2022, determined to do things differently. The young influencer was going to tell his followers all about the crisis and the grandmother with life experience was going to help him do it. The cynical business executive was going to become a whistleblower, informing on corporate crimes against humanity. The activist was going to stand for Council and the writer was going to use her gift to educate people.

As someone who has been doing most of these things for several decades, you will have to forgive my cynicism for thinking the well-meaning characters probably wouldn’t be successful in saving the world.  (I haven’t tried whistleblowing as I never worked for a company involved in destroying the planet). It is hard to imagine what ordinary people can do that will provoke the change we need from Government and Corporations that can completely turn around our civilisation so that we prioritise survival over greed and profit. 

It is rarely reported in the press, but more climate protestors have now been arrested than those campaigning for votes for women. Many activists are in prison and around the world, many have died trying to protect their community from so-called developers. Yet still, carbon emissions are increasing and decision makers fail to take notice of the scientists pleading that we have to stop drilling for oil. 

The death toll from climate change is increasing quickly, and the people who have contributed least to the problem are the most badly affected. According to Jason Hickel, data from 2010 suggests that around 400,000 people died that year due to crises related to climate breakdown. These were mainly hunger and communicable disease. 98% of these deaths occurred in the global south. By 2030 climate-related deaths are predicted to reach 530,000 a year. Again the vast majority of these will be in the south. 

Drought is increasing, devastating agriculture in many countries of the south. Crops are failing and hunger is increasing. Rising temperatures mean tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever are spreading to new regions. After a long history of colonisation, the poor countries of the south are less able to adapt to climate breakdown. The poorest are unable to survive on marginal land vulnerable to droughts and floods, don’t have the means to see themselves through disasters and can’t easily relocate or defend their human rights. 

The emissions of a few rich nations are harming billions of people in poorer countries and this is a crime against humanity. As Philip Alston put it, “Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor.”

We recently experienced temperatures close to 40 degrees. Imagine what it would be like to cope with this day after day.

In Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa,  droughts have killed 70% of the livestock, devastating rural communities and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Shukri Ismail Bandare, the Minister for the Environment, said “We used to have droughts before. They would be 10 or 15 years apart. Now it is so frequent that people can not cope with it. You can touch it in Somaliland, the climate change. It is real, it is here.” 

So far average world temperatures have increased by 1.2 degrees Centigrade. With emissions still rising there is little hope of meeting the target to hold this increase at 1.5 degrees. Climate negotiators from the United States and other powerful countries have pushed for a 2 degrees target. When this was announced at the Copenhagen summit in 2009, Lumumba Di-Aping the Sudanese negotiator for the G77, said “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact. It is unfortunate that after 500 years of interaction with the West we are still considered disposables.” 

So if I could make some edits to the play I would change two things. Firstly I would emphasise that climate change is already killing people in 2022. Secondly, for the five time travellers to succeed in saving the world,  they will need to inspire all of us to come together in peaceful direct action to demand an end to fossil fuels.

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